Friday, December 2, 2011

Thomas Middleton's Burial Record

Dyce, Alexander, ed. The Works of Thomas Middleton: Now first collected, with some account of the author and notes by the Reverend Alexander Dyce. By Thomas Middleton. Vol. 1. London: Edward Lumley, 1840. 5 vols.
In an attempt to address the mistaken idea that Shakespeare's burial record is odd in not indicating his poetic abilities (for which, q.v.), I started on a quest to find contemporary burial records of other poets and dramatists. The work, despite the help of several excellent research librarians, has been slow.

But success has arrived in the form of an 1840 edition of Middleton's works that cites Thomas Middleton's burial record. Middleton was one of Shakespeare's best-known and most prolific contemporaries—one with whom he may have collaborated on Macbeth (the silly witches' songs are Middleton's) and other plays. If we expect Shakespeare's burial record to mention his literary ability, we also expect Middleton's to mention his.

It doesn't. Middleton gets the title "Mr."—and that's all.

In Julye 1627
Mr. Thomas Middleton was buried the . . . . 4[th]. (Dyce xxxviii)

That's all. "Mr." Not "Thomas Middleton, prolific composer of plays, masques, and prose works" or "Thomas Middleton, Poet" or "Thomas Middleton, Dramatist" or even "Thomas Middleton, Author." An author who wrote or collaborated on approximately thirty plays is given the bare title "Mr." Shakespeare's "gent." would look effusive in comparison if it wasn't simply an indication of his social standing.

Consider this to be another small addition to the evidence about Shakespeare's contemporaries and their burial records. The particular benefit is its specificity. B. Roland Lewis, in The Shakespeare Documents: Facsimiles, Transliterations, Translations, and Commentary (ed. and trans. B. Roland Lewis, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1940), deals more generally with the subject:
It is to be noted that the entry [for Shakespeare's burial] very definitely accords Shakespeare social rating. "Gent," "Mr," "Knt," were the social ratings ordinarily used in Parish Registers; virtually never was there any reference to such matters as literary or dramatic prowess. (525)
The specificity of Middleton's burial record helps support the general claim that parish registers were not places to record a person's occupation or reputation.

Enormous thanks are due to the research librarians who helped with this project over the past year. Thank you very much!

1 comment:

Papa Pantaloon said...

Kudos to the reference librarians. They aren't down yet! All they need is a worthy challenge. Now, as a result of Bardfilm's queries, Thomas Middleton's burial record can be read by any interested party at the mere click of a mouse on the link provided by Google.

Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2039 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

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